Like a Georges Méliès of the information age, Zbigniew Rybczyński employed specially constructed rigs and cutting-edge — for its time — technology to create a kind of visual sorcery leaving you asking “how on earth did he do that?”. The film he’s most noted for, Tango, was the first ever Oscar awarded to a Polish artist — 1983.
Thirty-six characters from different stages of life — representations of different times — interact in one room, moving in loops, observed by a static camera. In Tango, Zbigniew exploits this concept of the single offscreen space by filling it with a plethora of actions. It soon becomes obvious that such a small space, that of a small room, could not possibly contain all the actions taking place. Zbigniew also makes critical use of off-screen space, exposing it for the artifice it is. Off-screen space is the imaginary area beyond the edge of the screen, and in front of or behind the camera. There are a number of ways through to off-screen space in Tango — a window and a door in the back wall, doors on either side of the room, and cupboard which also has its uses. Zbigniew orchestrates his entrances and exits with great precision.
“I had to draw and paint about 16.000 cell-mattes, and make several hundred thousand exposures on an optical printer. It took a full seven months, sixteen hours per day, to make the piece. The miracle is that the negative got through the process with only minor damage, and I made less than one hundred mathematical mistakes out of several hundred thousand possibilities. In the final result, there are plenty of flaws ® black lines are visible around humans, jitters caused by the instability of film material resulting from film perforation and elasticity of celluloid, changes of colour caused by the fluctuation in colour temperature of the projector bulb and, inevitably, dirt, grain and scratches.”
Zbigniew was born on January 27, 1949 in Lodz, Poland, but was raised in Warsaw, where he attended an arts high school and was trained as a painter. He went on to study cinematography at the world-renowned Lodz Film School where he began experimenting with the film medium. His first projects were Kwadrat and Take Five — 1972. Along with his other works, they broke new ground in the use of pixelation, optical printing, animation and other compositional film devices.
Zbig was active in the avant-garde group Warsztat Formy Filmowej and he cooperated with Se-Ma-For Studios in Lodz, where his art movies were shot, including Plamuz — 1973 —, Zupa — 1974 —, Nowa ksiazka — 1975 — and Tango — 1980. At the same time he also worked as a cinematographer on several feature films, including shorts by Andrzej Baranski, Piotr Andrejew and the acclaimed Dancing Hawk by Grzegorz Krolikiewicz.
In 2015, on the occasion of the retrospective Media Pioneer at the Flatpack Festival in Birmingham, UK, were screened all his works from his early experiments with computer animation and split screens, right through to his 80s MTV days when he was making promos for the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Lou Reed.